Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit, Inc. (TCAT), Ithaca, NY, has been officially recognized by its industry peers as being one of the best transit system of its size in North America. Over the past decade, TCAT has made remarkable and measurable strides in ridership growth, safety practices, workforce training, community outreach and environmental sustainability.
TCAT’s service area covers a semi‑rural, albeit, cosmopolitan population of 104,000 in Tompkins County. TCAT’s 34 bus routes transport both out‑of‑county and in‑county residents to and from Cornell University, Ithaca College, Tompkins Cortland Community College as well as retail, entertainment, commercial, residential and professional centers. TCAT operates 22 hours a day, seven days a week and 360 days a year, only shutting down five days a year to allow all of TCAT’s employees to observe major holidays: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
In 2019, TCAT provided more than 4.2 million annual trips, a 36 percent increase in ridership from 2005.
TCAT contributes greatly to the community it serves by reducing traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and the cost of building parking facilities. Access to such a robust transit system enables Tompkins County residents to save on fuel costs and enables independence and empowerment to those who have no other means of transportation.
At present, TCAT has a fleet of 55 diesel buses, traveling a combined distance of 1.6 million miles a year. TCAT has been awarded a federal grant for the purchase of three electric buses and supporting infrastructure. TCAT expects to acquire three buses later in 2020 and plans to transform its fleet to electric-battery buses over the next two decades.
To learn more about what TCAT plans for the future, please refer to its: Strategic Plan 2018-2030
TCAT’s Governance and History
TCAT is governed by a nine‑member Board of Directors comprised of three individuals recommended by each of its three main local funding partners: the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and Cornell University. Nominees, in turn, are elected by the TCAT board and in that capacity serve TCAT solely and independently of their respective recommending bodies.
Though TCAT is an independent organization, the City, County and Cornell are at the very root of its dynamic history as TCAT was born from a consolidation of:
- Ithaca Transit, which was started by the City in 1962 as a municipal bus system;
- TOMTRAN, which was started by the County in 1981 as a rural transit system to maintain access to rural-based labor forces in Tompkins and, via a contract with Tioga Transport, also in Tioga County.
- CU Transit, which was started by Cornell in 1966 as a campus shuttle bus system.
City, County and Cornell leaders wisely recognized the inherent financial and overall operational inefficiencies of having separate services. In 1991, leaders established an Operating Committee to begin the long and arduous process of consolidating all three operations, personnel, bargaining units and fares into a single system and overseeing the construction of a new facility.
In 1992, the three transit agencies moved into a brand new $5 million transit facility, 737 Willow Ave., Ithaca, along with Gadabout Transportation Services, Inc. In 1992, the three transit systems began offering paratransit services, as mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act, through a contract with Gadabout Transportation Services, Inc., led by Executive Director Kristen Wells. (Gadabout, lauded by the White House in the 1980s for its ingenuity with volunteerism, continues to substantially curb the high cost of paratransit by using what is now a staff of highly‑trained volunteer drivers as well as paid drivers.)
Although the three transit systems continued to operate separately under one roof sharing the cost for a single maintenance department, building maintenance, utilities and shared administrative staff, the consolidation process moved forward in 1996 when the New York State Legislature adopted a law authorizing the creation of TCAT. That year, the Operating Committee hired the first‑ever general manager, Rod Ghearing, and the TCAT name and logo were adopted and unveiled that summer. Also in 1996, the Route 10 downtown Cornell shuttle – now one of TCAT’s most popular routes – was started. Another highlight of 1996: TCAT became the first New York transit system to install bike racks on its bus fleet.
In April, 1998, the City, County and Cornell adopted a consolidation agreement. Following a study of all routes and fares, TCAT implemented a single route system and fare structure that went into effect in August, 1999. TCAT was incorporated and began operations Jan. 1, 2005, as a private, not‑for‑profit corporation and as a single employer providing public transportation services in Tompkins County and surrounding areas. TCAT hired its second General Manager Joe Turcotte in 2005 who led TCAT until his death in May 2016. A TCAT Board Search Committee selected Scot Vanderpool, who has several years of transportation experience at CENTRO and Syracuse University, to become TCAT’s third General Manager. Vanderpool was initially hired as TCAT’s Operations Manager in January, 2017, and took over as General Manager in August, 2017.
TCAT Funding Structure
TCAT is funded by the State Transit Operating Assistance Fund, based on ridership and miles traveled. These state funds are TCAT’s largest source of operating revenue or about 35 percent of TCAT’s $15.6 million annual operating budget.
The City, County and Cornell each provide equal funding to TCAT, or a combined 18 percent of TCAT’s total operating budget or a total of more than $2.7 million in 2019. Other sources of operating income include cash fares, more than 30 percent of the total budget, including Cornell University’s annual fare payment program, and to a smaller extent, federal and local funds, including revenue from the county’s mortgage recording tax.
TCAT management and the TCAT Board of Directors continue to make the need for predictable and adequate funding a top priority and continue to work with its local funders and stakeholders to find solutions.
- Having long outgrown its facility at 737 Willow Ave., TCAT is embarking on the construction of a new larger facility. The TCAT Board of Directors in late 2019 selected a three-parcel 19.2 acre plot , cordoned by Warren Road, Cherry Road and Warren Drive, near the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport to build a new facility.
- First-Mile/Last Mile initiative called “Tconnect” to launch in April of 2020 to better connect rural customers in rural low-density areas to major bus lines.
- TCAT will undergo a comprehensive study with a Transportation Development Plan (TDP) in early 2020, which will examine its routes and service in general. According to industry standards, many transit agencies go through the TDP process every decade as a way to improve and grow service.
About TCAT’s work force
TCAT’s human resources are at the heart of its successes and fostering labor‑management harmony remains a top priority.
In 2004, the United Auto Workers was recognized by the TCAT not-for-profit corporation as the collective bargaining unit to represent bus operators and TCAT’s maintenance team. The first three-year contract with the UAW went into effect October 2005. The second three-year contract was signed in October of 2008 and the most recent three‑year‑contract was signed February, 2015.
TCAT is a responsible employer with a workforce of 140 that includes 83 full-time and six part-time bus operators, 10 full-time and one part-time bus mechanics, seven full-time and two-part time maintenance and custodial crew; and 31 full-time administrative and management staff. TCAT’s Human Resources Department pro‑actively seeks to build and retain a diverse workforce. TCAT pays competitive wages and provides a generous benefits package to its union and non‑union employees. In addition, TCAT places a heavy emphasis on safety, accident preventability and workforce training in all aspects of the operations.
TCAT strongly believes that sound customer service, communications and outreach are an underpinning to its success. TCAT strives for transparency and swift response to all feedback and passenger inquiries. In 2007, TCAT established what is now called the Riders’ Advisory and Accessibility Committee, a group of interested riders, who once a month bring to the table suggestions, observations and constructive criticism to the attention of TCAT management. The committee also includes riders with disabilities as well as representatives of organizations advocating for persons with disabilities. That committee also offers advice and suggestions on how to improve service for these riders. This committee is an importatn part of TCAT’s efforts to grow and develop as an efficient, well‑managed, and fiscally‑sound provider of an essential public service that significantly contributes both to the health of the local economy and environment. (updated January 2020)